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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Just Is

I love this. The dictionary defines justice as "the quality of being just." Thank you very much. Just what? But seriously, what is justice? Consider for a moment the famous representation of Lady Justice.

Lady Justice is typically depicted with three features or, rather, symbols. She is blindfolded to tell us that justice is blind. It doesn't care what your sex, race, social standing, or hair color is. It simply wants to provide justice for all. The sword is there to tell us that justice is armed, so to speak. It is, in fact, a two-edged sword. It can defend and it can attack. On this Paul wrote, "[Authority established by God] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." (Rom 13:4)

And then there are the scales.

It is my suspicion that very few of us actually grasp "justice". We may think "fair" or "equality" or something like it, but there is a fundamental principle at work in the concept of justice, and it is found in that image of the scales. The idea of justice is the idea of balancing the books, so to speak. On one side of these scales is "what is right" and on the other is "what is". If "what is right" is not balanced with "what is", we have injustice. "What is right" cannot require more than is right and "what is" cannot be less than what is right.

Now, one thing we know about God is that He is just. (There it is again ... just what?) Abraham asked the ultimate rhetorical question when he asked God, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25) The answer is clear. "Yes!! God will always deal justly." So for God to be just, He is obligated by His nature to balance the scales.

People have argued that God can just forgive sin. He doesn't have to be just. He doesn't have to balance the scales. Like us, He can just say, "Forget about it!" and it's done. If this is true, then we have to conclude that the answer to Abraham's question is "No! He will not deal justly." If God does not deal justly, He is not just. In this case, we cannot expect Him to punish the wicked nor can we be certain that He won't punish the innocent. It was Kant who argued that the basis for morality in our world was the belief in ultimate justice, so if we have no such expectation, what are we to do with morality? God is not the God Abraham thought He was and we can't be sure He will do what is right. But the Bible says God has "righteous judgment" (Rom 2:5) and will "render to each one according to his works." Justice. God is just.

So where does that leave us? Well, we need to check those scales. What is on the "what is right" side? For person-to-person justice, there is one list, but for God-to-person, it is a different list. God holds us to a rather high standard -- "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) That's the "what is right" side. The singular command is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37) That's the "what is right" side. What about the "what is" side? Well, we find something quite disturbing. We find that "all have sinned" (Rom 3:23), that "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). The best we get to on this side is "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6). Even the slightest violation is a full violation (James 2:10).

You see the problem, don't you? God is just. God always balances the scales. He is not allowed, by His nature, to simply "let it slide". He always deals justly. Lots of people would like Him to be lenient. Lots of people would argue that He can just let us off. No big deal. We do it; why not Him? The answer to that is 1) we are not fundamentally just and 2) the only way we can do it is because He is ultimately just (Rom 12:19). The truth is we cannot afford God to be just. The just rewards of our "what is" on these scales is the difference between perfection and "filth". God doesn't conform to justice; He is justice. And we cannot afford for God to be just; He just is.

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15) -- His gift of His Son who paid the price so that the Judge has "canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Col 2:14) While we're grateful for His amazing grace and cling joyfully to His marvelous mercy, let's not forget that He is always just and what Christ has done was an act of justice, satisfying God's righteous demands on our behalf so that "He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:26) Don't let anyone convince you that God "just forgives". He is just, and that balancing of the scales was expensive.

Tim Barnett of Stand to Reason didn't conspire with me when he wrote this piece today, but it might look that way.

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